Reviewing the Situation

It was a great, rather than a small, pleasure to spend a winter evening at the end of 2013, watching Dalriada’s production of Lionel Bart’s “Oliver!”Seasoned audiences perhaps take it for granted that the orchestra for a Dalriada show will be made up almost entirely of pupils; this is certainly not the case at all schools but under Heather Montgomery’s skilful (or is it magical?) baton this year’s talented young musicians sounded to have no problem interpreting the complicated musical score. The blend of brass, woodwind and strings was underpinned by a range of percussion instruments played by only two performers who understood entirely what was demanded of them.

This is a show of two choruses. There were some lovely individual performances among the juniors: all were tightly choreographed as they swapped work-house misery for a life of crime but many of them worked very hard to ensure that their emotions registered on their faces as they sang. They were all a delight to watch and the newly acquired footlights were effectively used to reflect their contrasting moods in different locations. Rachel Brown’s unobtrusive choreography for the Senior Chorus enhanced all their scenes whether they were belting out the chorus of “Oompah-pah” with beer swigging gusto, dancing through “Consider Yourself” or creating beautiful harmonies with the lyrical soloists in “Who Will Buy?”. Individual members also coped well with tricky non-singing scenes such as the discovery of Nancy’s body.

The actors playing Mr Bumble and Widow Corney have the difficult task of following “Food, Glorious Food” and beginning the serious business of the plot. On the Thursday night this difficulty was magnified by the fact that Thomas Hancock had been taken ill and Robbie Craig, script in hand, had to take on the role of the pompous Beadle at the last minute: the volume of applause which greeted his curtain call reflected just how well he coped. He was generously supported by Hannah Frizzell as the resplendent Mrs Corney. The pair captured much of the humour of the unlikey couple and Robbie even managed to almost match Hannah’s clear, resonant singing. Although Thomas’s illness meant that he missed all of the evening performances, I am reliably informed that at the matinee performances his portrayal of the bullying Bumble demonstrated highly developed stagecraft, particularly in his mastery of comedic timing.  The show’s other comic couple are the nightmarish Sowerberrys; they  were perfectly captured by Calum Telfer and Seon Simpson, both making enjoyable use of body language as well as their vocal skills, notably excellent diction. Calum was also a last minute double for Robbie in the role of Mr Brownlow; he was as convincing as a “kind old gentlemen” as he was organising “Your Funeral”. The lighting in the scenes at the undertaker’s suggested an appropriately sepulchral mood and I loved the final exit in the style of the Key Stone Cops.

Samuel McIlmoyle as Oliver brought charm and an appealing innocence to the title role. All his lines were clearly delivered and he sang “Where is Love?” with touching sincerity. He made an effective contrast to Manon Eymere’s confident Artful Dodger: Manon sang, danced and swaggered through her scenes with energy, style  and a convincing Cockney accent. Peter Smith also gave an intelligent, convincing performance as Dodger’s side-kick, Charlie Bates.

Claire Copper, in the role of the ill-fated Nancy, and Aoife Cameron-Mitchell as her friend, Bet, established believably warm relationships with these characters in their interactions with Fagin’s Gang. We have come to expect that Claire will sing with seemingly effortless musicality and we were not disappointed. She gave a nuanced performance thought out, giving Nancy moments of insight and regret beneath her cheerful bravado.  Her nemesis, Bill Sykes, was played by Peter Adams with suitably sinister verve; he clearly relished the opportunity to play the villain and was well supported during “My Name” by the apparently terrified chorus.

Fagin stands at the centre of this show. Chris Nevin avoided the temptation to create a stereotypical figure or a pale imitation of Ron Moody’s iconic interpretation and played the character with his own effective mixture of comedy, menace and pathos. He was enjoyable to watch throughout whether playfully teaching Oliver to “Pick a Pocket” or reflectively contemplating his own uncertain future.

Dalriada’s depth of talent was demonstrated in fine performances in minor roles. Laura Abernethy and Daniel White brought the character of Charlotte and Noah to life – the former as a nasty, giggling flirt who made an unforgettable entrance in a coffin and the latter a strutting bully. Both showed their versatility too; Daniel as the Bow Street Runner, Laura as Old Sally. Rachel McClelland sang beautifully  as Mrs Bedwin and her delivery of the line hinting at unrequited love  for her employer was perfect. Jonah Myer made a brilliantly eccentric Dr Grimwig.

Successful school productions involve a huge team of pupils (and supportive, self-effacing staff) behind the scenes and generally generate excitement throughout every year group.  This enthusiasm was evident in the smiling faces of the friendly Refreshments Team who served guests at the interval and, no doubt, took care of the Cast as well. Both the Wardrobe and Make-up Teams are to be commended for their efforts; the urchins were all convincingly grubby and I particularly liked Fagin’s costume and thought the Dr Who scarf a witty tribute to that other hit show of the season. Congratulations too on the decision not to use his hat until the final scene where it could make the most impact on his departing silhouette. The Cast were also well served by the slickly efficient Props and Stage Teams: scene changes were quick and those behind the curtain effected with barely a ripple and there were clever touches like the bright colours of the food chosen to be carried past the drably costumed, starving paupers.

This was very technical production using sound ( I am sure I heard Fagin’s sausage sizzle), light, smoke (those sausages again!), projections and film to bring another dimension to the audience experience.  Well done to everyone who managed all of this so effectively. The set had been cleverly designed to facilitate some of this, to provide different levels for the performers and to hint at the grimmer world of Dickens’ novel.

Terry Hunter had already proved his skills as a Director of school plays; he is clearly equally capable, imaginative and inspiring as a Director of Musicals. I have only one thing to say to him, “Please Sir, can we have some more?”